Money makes the world go round, but in Karachi, it brings lives to a standstill

Published: July 10, 2010

Farhan Reza has been a journalist in the print and electronic media for the last 15 years.

Farhan Reza has been a journalist in the print and electronic media for the last 15 years. Target killings are as much an outcome  of economics as  they are linked to turf wars

Politics should ideally be about ideology but in Karachi, over the last ten years or so, it has become more about money. In the 1980s, we were divided along ethnic lines, but they have been slowly erased and replaced by financial ones.

The story of change begun in 2002, when Shaukat Aziz rigorously implemented an IMF agenda to liberalise the economy. Banks were pushed into consumer financing, lending was made easy. Banking, telecommunication and real estate grew. Import duties were minimised. Business flourished in computers, cell phones and luxury items. The media promoted new products. Middle class dreams were realised. People started discovering purchasing power. They bought cars, homes, refrigerators, cell phones.

Real estate became a focus in 2002 and this trend peaked by 2004 and 2005. A house that was easily available for one million rupees in 1999 was going for no less than eight million rupees. Food and shopping malls mushroomed. The government started to make new roads, bridges and underpasses to make property more attractive.

For those who were earning legally, there were plenty of places to spend. For those who were not able to jump on the bandwagon, they had their own way of earning from the city: land grabbing and petty crime. Snatch a mobile phone and you get at least Rs5,000, mug someone at an ATM and you can get up to Rs25,000.

Landgrabbing became a business and getting rid of landgrabbers also became a business. Banks hired bouncers, usually political workers or those with connections, to recover stuck loans and leased cars from people unable to pay installments.

Karachi was already divided on political lines, thus political connections were essential for the recovery gangs. In many cases, settlements were reached at the offices of political parties. Later, recovery gangs became involving in landgrabbing. To survive, they needed the protection of a political banner or flag. This is why more and more political flags were put up on grabbed property or disputed land over the last ten years.

It would be unfair to hold criminals entirely responsible. They could not have come so far without benefiting the parties in return. Financial gains of political parties are not easy to prove. But an evaluation of leader assets and their growth in the last 10 years could reveal this side of the story.

From Lyari to Surjani, New Karachi to Orangi Town, party flags have surfaced and people claiming affiliation with different parties have been dictating the rules of business in real estate and other money matters. This was also made possible with support from the administration, police, Rangers.

It is an open secret that the police and other law-enforcing agencies are beneficiaries. This is why people argue that the lifestyle of many officers does not match their legal sources of income. In some cases, the visiting cards of officers have been recovered from people shot dead in encounters.

The Rangers have been tasked with security of some of the city’s prime property but they also have a stake in the different business, especially the water supply one. A common perception at Karachi University, where the Rangers have been deployed since 1989, is that whenever students demand their removal from campus, a student clash takes place. Many circles believe the same theory applies to the city as well.

Many people believe banned sectarian outfits kill Shias to demonstrate strength and consolidate their support bank, get a piece of the pie. Police investigators cite the 1995-96 rise of the anti-Shia Taliban as linked to the killings of scores of Shias in Karachi. By targeting Shias, these outfits send a strong message to their supporters who then reach for their pockets to make donations. In a tit-for-tat response, many Sunnis have also been gunned down apparently by Shia outfits.

Whether it is Mumbai, Miami or Karachi, gangs or outfits start controlling cities when the system does not adjust to rapid economic growth.

A comment piece published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2010.

Reader Comments (20)

  • Hafsa Khattri
    Jul 10, 2010 - 5:20AM

    Finally! Someone has got the courage to write a real story of Karachi.
    “By targeting Shias, these outfits send a strong message to their supporters who then reach for their pockets to make donations”. Very apt explanation of sectarian target killing. It is all about money. Recommend

  • Syed A. Mateen
    Jul 10, 2010 - 9:06AM

    The problems multiplied due to lack of transparency in the government’s policies.

    In Real Estate, it was not that people had the power of purchase which they do not have now but the rates of different properties have been increased many folds as the government could not regulate the real estate brokerage business.

    Estate Agnecy Owners and Real Estate Agents have not been given licences to operate in the country which lead to mushroom growth. Now every Tom, Dick and Harry has either become Real Estate Agency Owner or Real Estate Agent and increase the price of Real Estate at his own free will in order to increase the amount of commission.

    On the other hand government has devised such policies that Real Estate Buyers are reluctant to declare the actual price of property on which it has been purchased.

    On one hand government has reduced the Capital Value Tax (CVT) from 4% to 2% (variable on case to case basis) but on the other hand has increased the Collector Rates many folds,

    The only way for people to buy a property is to commit a crime and then purchase a property. This is one the main reasons that most of the people are involved in white collar crimes.Recommend

  • Aziz Ahmed
    Jul 10, 2010 - 6:57PM

    I like the word “Whether it is Mumbai, Miami or Karachi, gangs or outfits start controlling cities when the system does not adjust to rapid economic growth” And if you talking about Karachi target killings, the people of this city are truly held hostage on gun-point. Now, it all depends on karachiites.. if they really care for their peace and prosperity then they shouldn’t vote for these ghunda mafias. Educated middle class should come forward and lead the nation otherwise, we all have to bear these murderers till doomsday.Recommend

  • Abid Ali Saqi
    Jul 10, 2010 - 7:15PM

    Good piece. Makes sense.Recommend

  • Hina Ali
    Jul 10, 2010 - 7:19PM

    The best solution to this is to De Weaponise the whole country & specially Karachi.It should be across the board & even all licenced Arms should be collected from the people.We should come out the blame games,those who comply are the real patriotic Pakistanis rest should be duelly treated.Recommend

  • Imran Mehdi
    Jul 10, 2010 - 9:39PM

    Political parties change into gangs this is why they are not interested in taking up political issues. Karachi is slowly moving towards a major clash between political groups ( I dont want to use word civil war), because land and money have already taken many lives.
    Very good and timely news article.Recommend

  • Zaheer Haider
    Jul 10, 2010 - 10:25PM

    Karachi situation is very critical. Government must do something before situation get out of hand. Recommend

  • Shams Hamid
    Jul 11, 2010 - 9:33AM

    Well done Farhan! A very sensible analysis and also a courageous one. Recommend

  • Habib Ahmed
    Jul 11, 2010 - 12:05PM

    Dirty politicians and their dirty politics changed our beloved homeland into a hell. Politicians from all parties are killing innocent people for power and their dirty politics. Sindh Police officers have no right to wear crests and crowns on their shoulders if they can not control the law and order situation. I request the Chief Justice of Pakistan Supreme Court to kindly take a serious action against target killing in Karachi and specially against Sindh Police officers, for not performing their duties. Those who do not perform their duties, should be sent home at once.Recommend

  • Imran Ali
    Jul 11, 2010 - 12:09PM

    I totally agree that the whole country (including tribal areas) should be de-weaponize irrespective of call of culture, tradition, etc, etc.Recommend

  • fayyaz mangi
    Jul 11, 2010 - 5:15PM

    Wide and wild subjects have been tried to deal with in a one go.good try.Recommend

  • M. Abid
    Jul 11, 2010 - 8:40PM

    It’s a way of seeing the whole sky from the pit of a well and believing that this all the world is! The terrorism in Pakistan whether sectarian in nature or ethnic one, cannot be divorced from the geo-strategic factors in the region as well as in the Middle East! The simplified paradigm of the targeted killings in Karachi presented in this article is completely misleading and nonsense! The author has no idea what terrorism is! There is no doubt that any activity, drug trafficking to targeted killings, if go unchecked, generate their own factors in which some people make money, for instance gunrunners, drug traffickers, property dealers, auto-dealers, stock brokers etc., but they are the side-liner beneficiaries of a situation that has come into existence due to supra-state powers which also include the power play of the USA, Saudi elements who organised “Jihadi” terrorism to contain the anti-imperialist revolutionary fervour after the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979! The factors such as gang wars of the urban areas such as Miami, Mumbai, New York are working in Karachi violence, and such factors have been working in Karachi since the 1950s, of course at different levels (one can read “Khuda Ki Basti” novel of Shaukat Siddiqui to peep into the world of the criminal gang wars in Karachi), yet the nature of targeted killing of this city cannot be seen in its true perspective without Taliban or Jihadi culture that our security agencies and regional power players unleashed in the 1980s! It would be preposterous to say that only “gangs or outfits start controlling cities when the system does not adjust to rapid economic growth.” NO, sir! Criminal gangs or mafias in cities like Mumbai, Miami or New York always operate in connivance with the police and local administration, and they survive as long as the administration’s top stakeholders allow it. But is it the case in Karachi or in other parts of Pakistan where even local administration (police and security forces) have been marginalised as the Jihaids and the “establishment” have colluded an unholy alliance in order to secure the bigger geo-political stakes across the border and in the region!Recommend

  • Mudassir Hasan
    Jul 12, 2010 - 2:00AM

    Why we live in the state of denial? We use fancy words and jargons to explain things when we are not aware about the real situation. It is naive to classify Karachi’s target killing just as terrorism.
    It is Zaid Hamidian attitude or leftist paranoia when we put forward theories like entire world specially super-states with their geo-political interest that have colluded an unholy alliance with the international religio-political agenda was the reason of killing of Mohmmad Ali, living in a 400 square yard house in the middle of the city and he had not been willing to sell his property to a builder who wish to construct 100 apartments on his land.
    I think writer has very appropriately described Karachi’s situation. The fact is 40 pashtoons were killed in May, while more than 60 activists of MQM Haqqiqi and MQM lost their lives in 6 months. In May, MQM and ANP were openly blaming each other for target killings.
    On sectarian killing writer was right that Taliban have been using Karachi as financial supply line and they do this only to “to demonstrate strength and consolidate their support bank, get a piece of the pie.”
    But, if we are in the state of denial and do not have knowledge of real facts, we start throwing conspiracy theories involving US, Israel, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, and even Sudan and Ghana with fancy words and jargons. Recommend

  • Umar Baloch
    Jul 12, 2010 - 4:07AM

    Good news analysis. It shows true face of Karachi. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan last week issued a report stated 260 people were victim of target killing during last six months of which 16 people were killed on sectarian grounds.
    HRCP report states during last six months, MQM Haqiqi lost 34 workers, the Muhattida Qaumi Movement 22 workers, ANP 16 and PPP 11 members in target killings. Lyari Gang war took 40 lives in six months.
    MQM and ANP blamed each other on Express TV’s shows for target killing. They accepted that financial motives were behind these killings.
    Like Mumbai of mid 90s, Karachi is also a textbook case for discussing implication of neo-liberal economic agenda in state where system is dysfunctional. People like me who watch Indian movies passionately some time find Karachi’s situation resembling to Mumbai depicted in movies focusing on subject like gang war or politics and money.
    An eye opening Recommend

  • Jul 12, 2010 - 11:15AM

    It’s a very courageous piece of work, a very bold pen of yours. Recommend

  • Jatoi
    Jul 12, 2010 - 12:16PM

    All we need accountability in our country both, self accountability and also strict accountability from govt as well as from courts. One must feel enough fear while doing wrong whether one is a soldier, a general, a civilian or a minister. Those civil servants who do not perform their duties 100% must be held accountable and sent home to evacuate place for new comers.
    In Karachi, police shows her loyalty to political parties instead of country, which is the worst sign of professionalism. Karachi high court should ask Sindh police chief and his successors for not performing their duties. Recommend

  • Burhan Farooqi
    Jul 15, 2010 - 3:43PM

    Good analysis. I think sitution is become complex due to geo-political situation. Recommend

  • Zia Hakeem
    Jul 16, 2010 - 10:02AM

    Chah gaye hain Farhan sbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb well done :)Recommend

  • Zarrar Khuhro
    Jul 19, 2010 - 7:25PM

    Excellent and incisive job Farhan!Recommend

  • Shahid Soomro
    Jul 21, 2010 - 7:38PM

    True analysis. New wave of target killing proved that your analysis was true. Very daring and factually correct article.Recommend

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